Number one, baby! As the great and indomitable Richard Robert—sometimes known as Ricky Bobby—said in future Criterion classic Talladega Nights, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” It’s this postmodern maximalist—or perhaps minimalist— philosophy that Bring a Trailer user “PKT2020” applied toward their $107,000 winning bid of a Honda Civic, a whopping $62,010 over MSRP.
That’s a whole heckuva lot of bucks exchanged for what Honda originally billed as an eminently affordable car “created for citizens and cities.” The very word “Civic” conjures up visions of pennies spilled onto the grimy laminate floors of a municipal center, not stacks of cash dumped onto the bright Phoenix Yellow panels of the 2021 Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition in question.
We love the Civic Type R and can safely say the Limited Edition, which is nearly 50 pounds lighter and wears Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires along with that very yellow paint, is worth Honda’s asking price of $44,950. The apparent reason this specific Type R brought such a big price is its serial number—001 out of 600 units earmarked for the U.S. market. It’s part of a small contingent of “001” cars that do not correlate with real market values. In fact, prior to this blockbuster sale, BaT sold number 003 and 215 CTR Limited Editions for $59,850 and $54,600, respectively.
It’s enough to make us wonder if being number one is as important as Ricky Bobby thought it was. It’s a complicated question, owing to a conflicting factor: Charity. Many number one cars (but not this one) get auctioned for the benefit of a good cause (and, ahem, a tax write-off) which tends to fetch much higher prices. For instance, the first production 2017 Civic Type R, auctioned off by Honda itself on Bring a Trailer, brought $200,000, but the proceeds went directly to charity.
It’s become de rigueur for automakers to offer the first example of milestone models at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale event. The first production C8-generation Chevrolet Corvette claimed a wild $3M at Barrett-Jackson’s 2020 Scottsdale sale, besting 2019’s $2.1M “001” Supra, 2016’s $1.2M “001” Acura NSX, and this year’s $2.5M “001” GMC Hummer and $1.075M “001” Ford Bronco. As very, very few of these first-of-a-generation cars re-enter the market after the initial charity-driven sale, it’s difficult to suss out their true market value.
Our guess is that it certainly doesn’t match that initial wallet-walloping figure. The very first fifth-gen Dodge Viper attracted a $220,000 winning bid at last year’s Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale sale against the charitable $300,000 paid in 2013—a $136,000 deficit when accounting for inflation.
Beyond the charity factor, there are more fundamental questions that might have appealed to Abbott and Costello: What counts as first and what does being first mean? That record-setting blue 2017 Civic, for instance, was the first production example of its entire model generation and marked a significant event for Honda collectors—the return of the Type R to U.S. soil. The first C8 likewise has historical importance as the launching point for the mid-engine Corvette.
First means a bit less, though, if it’s for a model year in the middle of a generation’s production run. The first 2006 Chevrolet Corvette traded for $46,200 in 2018, while the first 1969 Mercury Cougar raked in a so-so $48,400 at this year’s B-J Las Vegas auction. It also doesn’t help if the car is, well, not cool. Even the magnetic pull of prior Burt Reynolds ownership failed to elevate the first production 2008 Pontiac G8 beyond a $38,500 winning high-bid at Barrett-Jackson’s 2017 Palm Beach sale. It would have surely helped had Pontiac made sure 001 didn’t have a V-6 and an automatic.
Last but not least, the value of being first rides on the extent to which a seller can prove their car is, in fact first. Thanks to rare options and occasionally muddled production documentation, that can be difficult to do with older cars. All the more so for stuff that was raced in period and subsequently parted out.
All to say, the math behind “001” cars is unpredictable at best. If this latest BaT Civic sale was instead hosted for charity, would Special Edition 001 have matched the record-setting CTR from 2017? We’ll never know, but we expect to see another record fall when the next-gen Civic Type R drops sometime next year. We’ll start a betting pool.